QS Stars Ratings

The University of Canterbury promotes its 5-star rating in the QS Stars rating system, but the system and UC’s rating must be considered with a critical eye. For example, how does a university with so much construction and without a student building or good wi-fi receive 5 stars for Facilities? Should it be receiving 5 stars for Inclusiveness after all of the recent incidents of intolerance?

Students may not realise that the QS Stars rating system is a paid, opt-in service for universities to help promote themselves. It was fully introduced a few years ago to meet a growing demand for comparisons between institutions of higher education. It costs $9,850 for a three-year package, then $6,850 for subsequent years. Universities can also pay $45,000 to be benchmarked against other institutions (Stack, 2016, p. 40).

There has been controversy over the commercial nature of the ratings causing potential conflicts of interest. One official at an Irish university admitted that the cost was a good marketing investment, since all it would take is one full-time international student being attracted by the ratings to cover the costs (Guttenplan 2012). Some have noted the issue that “Most colleges tout the QS rating on their websites but do not disclose that they paid for it” (Lavelle, 2013). Richard Holmes set up a blog devoted to the analysis and discussion of university rankings after apparently failing to get published in the Guardian.

Down in Dunedin, the University of Otago has received the 5-star Plus rating, which means it is “not just world-class, but an elite destination to which the very best students and faculty worldwide will aspire. Its brand name will transform the résumé of anyone connected with it” (“QS Stars Ratings Explained”). Otago has five stars in every category.

QS World University Rankings

Meanwhile, the QS World University Rankings were developed in 2004 and now rank more than 800 universities (without charging a fee). The rankings are based on six indicators: Academic reputation (40%), Employer reputation (10%), Student-to-faculty ratio (10%), Citations per faculty (20%), International faculty ratio (5%), and International student ratio (5%). Thus 60% of the ranking is based mainly on research, not teaching, and another 25% is based on student ratios, which do not necessarily translate to high-quality teaching. This is something to keep in mind if students are looking for good teachers and are not as interested in how much they have published.

Currently, the University of Canterbury emphasises being ‘world-class’ and its overall rank of #211. This is the statistic that keeps being replayed as a selling point. Previously, UC was #221 in 2012, #238 in 2013, and #242 in 2014. (The University of Otago is #173, down from #133 in 2012.) But UC’s press release announced to students via the Insider’s Guide to UC email is rather misleading when it comes to the details:

In this year’s QS World University Rankings by Subject, UC is ranked amongst the world’s top institutions in 25 of the subjects featured.
Twenty-five per cent of the subjects taught at UC and ranked by QS increased their ranking from the previous year. UC Civil Engineering remains among the top 50 in the world and the highest ranked discipline at UC. (University of Canterbury)

In actuality, UC Civil Engineering fell from #21 in 2013 to #49 in 2016. But placing the sentence immediately after the previous one that says 25% of subjects increased their ranking makes it seem like Civil Engineering also increased its ranking. In addition, taking a closer look at the subjects ranking [see below], out of the 25 subjects ranked by QS compared to previous years, 6 stayed the same, 11 fell, 5 fell and then rose, 1 rose and then fell, 1 rose, and 1 had insufficient data. So only one subject (Biological Sciences) actually rose without having previously fallen. The other 5 were more recovering. And many have fallen.

UC is also keeping quiet about other statistics, like the fact that the Social Sciences faculty has pushed itself into the Top 100 within two years. Or the fact that the Arts and Humanities faculty jumped almost one hundred places in two years to rank in the Top 150 in the world. The Natural Science faculty has made modest increases. But the Engineering and Technology faculty has actually fallen almost ten places. Yet which faculties are more likely to face funding cuts? Here is quantifiable evidence that the Arts and Social Sciences are enhancing the university’s reputation. Why no publicity?

The QS rankings are available on their website and also listed below:

University of Canterbury’s QS WU Rankings by Faculty:

  • Social Sciences and Management has risen from #217 (2013) to #94 (2015).
  • Arts and Humanities has risen from #238 (2013) to #146 (2015).
  • Engineering and Technology has fallen from #152 (2013) to #161 (2015).
  • Natural Science has risen and fallen from #245 (2013) to #184 (2014) to #211 (2015).
  • Life Sciences and Medicine has fallen from #393 (2014) to #394 (2015).

University of Canterbury’s QS WU Rankings by Subject organised by colleges (subjects may fall into more than one college):

College of Arts Subjects

  • Communication and Media Studies has fallen and risen from #101 (2013, 2014) to #151 (2015) to #101 (2016).
  • English Language and Literature has fallen and risen from #101 (2013) to #151 (2015) to #101 (2016).
  • History only has data for one year, #151 (2016).
  • Linguistics has fallen from #51 (2013) to #101 (2016).
  • Modern Languages has fallen from #151 (2014) to #251 (2016).
  • Psychology has fallen from #51 (2013) to #101 (2016).
  • Sociology has fallen from #101 (2013) to #151 (2016).

College of Business and Law Subjects

  • Accounting and Finance has stayed at #51 (2013-2016).
  • Business & Management Studies has stayed at #151 (2015, 2016).
  • Economics and Econometrics has fallen from #101 (2013) to #151 (2016).
  • Law and Legal Studies has stayed at #51 (2013-2016).

College of Education, Health and Human Development Subjects

  •  Education and Training has fallen and risen from #51 (2013, 2014) to #101 (2015) to #51 (2016).

College of Engineering Subjects

  • Engineering – Chemical has risen and fallen from #151 (2013 to #101 (2014) to #151 (2016).
  • Engineering – Civil and Structural has fallen from #21 (2013) to #49 (2016).
  • Engineering – Electrical and Electronic has stayed at #151 (2015, 2016).
  • Engineering – Mechanical has fallen from #151 (2014) to #201 (2016).

College of Science Subjects

  • Biological Sciences has risen from #301 (2015) to #251 (2016).
  • Chemistry has fallen from #151 (2013) to #301 (2016).
  • Computer Science and Information has fallen from #101 (2013) to #151 (2016).
  • Earth and Marine Sciences has fallen from #101 (2013) to #151 (2016).
  • Environmental Studies has stayed at #151 (2014-2016).
  • Geography has fallen and risen from #51 (2013, 2014) to #101 (2015) to #51 (2016).
  • Mathematics has fallen and risen from #151 (2013) to #251 (2015) to #201 (2016).
  • Physics and Astronomy has fallen from #201 (2015) to #251 (2016).
  • Statistics and Operational Research has stayed at #101 (2013-2016).





Guttenplan, D. D. 2012 December 30. “Ratings at a Price for Smaller Universities.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/31/world/europe/31iht-educlede31.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1

Holmes, Richard. 2013 June 24. “Bad Mood Rising.” http://rankingwatch.blogspot.com/2013/06/bad-mood-rising.html

Lavelle, Louis. 2013 January 12. “B-School Ratings That Make You ‘Pay to Play.’” Bloomberg News. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-01-10/b-school-ratings-that-make-you-pay-to-play

QS Top Universities. 2015 September 11. “QS World University Rankings: Methodology.”  http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings-articles/world-university-rankings/qs-world-university-rankings-methodology

QS Top Universities. 2014 August 11. “QS Stars Ratings Explained.” http://www.topuniversities.com/qs-stars/qs-stars/qs-stars-ratings-explained

QS Top Universities. 2014 July 31. “QS Stars: Methodology.” http://www.topuniversities.com/qs-stars/qs-stars-methodology

QS Top Universities. “University of Canterbury.” http://www.topuniversities.com/universities/university-canterbury

QS Top Universities. “University of Otago.” http://www.topuniversities.com/universities/university-otago

Stack, Michelle. 2016. Global University Rankings and the Mediatization of Higher Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

University of Canterbury. 2016 March 22. “QS rankings: UC amongst world’s top universities.” http://www.comsdev.canterbury.ac.nz/rss/news/?feed=news&articleId=1861

University of Otago. 2016 February 25. “Otago scores top for excellence and quality in QS Stars rating.” http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago581809.html